×

Sundance Film Review: ‘My Prairie Home’

Director Chelsea McMullan captures Canadian trangender folk singer Rae Spoon's music and life story in sensitive detail.

With:

Rae Spoon.

The Canadian prairie doesn’t just serve as itinerant transgender folk singer Rae Spoon’s primary touring stomping ground; it’s also a perfect visual counterpart to Spoon’s music — filled with placid, contemplative stretches interrupted by sudden, striking explosions of color and drama. Both the music and the landscape are captured in sensitive detail by Chelsea McMullan’s “My Prairie Home,” though the film’s lyrical appeal — and Spoon’s highly affecting life story — are somewhat undercut by frequent, and frequently awkward, cutaways to high-concept musicvideos. The docu should nonetheless find an appreciative audience at fests.

Born a woman, Spoon prefers to be referred to by the gender-neutral pronoun “they” as opposed to “him” or “her,” yet when pressed about which bathroom to use or how to explain things to curious customs agents, Spoon notes, “Sometimes you just have to move along.” This sort of Zenlike calm runs through Spoon’s music and their demeanor, and they generally come across as someone with deeply passionate beliefs who’d nonetheless prefer not to hector anyone about them. Tailed by cameras on countless, lonesome Greyhound trips from one small-town Canadian gig and spare hotel room to another, Spoon is never less than pleasant company, and the singer discusses some genuinely painful experiences without ever threatening to turn the film into a sob story.

The daughter of a schizophrenic evangelical Christian father, Spoon was abused both at home and at school, and the singer is quite eloquent when reminiscing with their brother or a high-school girlfriend. Tunes from Spoon’s songbook are deployed in thematically appropriate ways throughout, with the curious power of the singer’s voice — which tends to linger in a sort of pensive speak-singing before jumping to the higher register with unexpected power — holding attention through even the most skeletal song arrangements.

Live gigs are as well recorded as possible for a tiny crew in cavernous performance spaces, and an early video shoot that follows Spoon playing live while walking around a coffee shop in an unbroken tracking shot is quite arresting. But the decision to augment the film with increasingly flamboyant conceptual videos breaks its low-key spell a few times too many. Spoon never appears at all comfortable lip-syncing to the camera, and becomes even less so when asked to do it surrounded by dinosaur skeletons or, most ill-advisedly, cavorting dancers clad in deer costumes. One might admire the attempt to do something different with the music docu format, but in this case, less would have been so much more.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'My Prairie Home'

Reviewed at Wilshire screening room, Beverly Hills, Jan. 8, 2014. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Cinema, competing.) Running time: 77 MIN.

Production:

(Canada) A National Film Board of Canada production. Produced by Lea Marin. Executive producer, Silva Basmajian.

Crew:

Directed, written by Chelsea McMullan. Camera (color), Maya Bankovic, Derek Howard; editor, Avril Jacobson; music, Rae Spoon; production designer, Leanne MacKay; sound, Alex Unger.

With:

Rae Spoon.

More Film

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

  • Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Wins at

    Pedro Costa’s 'Vitalina Varela' Triumphs at Locarno Film Festival

    The 72nd Locarno Film Festival drew to a close Saturday with Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa’s dark and detached film “Vitalina Varela” coming away with several awards together with superlatives from segments of the hardcore cinephile crowd, including jury president Catherine Breillat. In announcing the Golden Leopard prize for the film, as well as best actress [...]

  • Vitalina Varela

    Locarno Film Review: 'Vitalina Varela'

    Frequently beautiful compositions and the theatrical use of a fierce kind of artifice have long been the hallmarks of Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, regarded by a small but influential group of aesthetes as one of the great filmmakers of our era. For those in tune with his vision, the director’s films offer an exciting lesson [...]

  • Notre dame

    Locarno Film Review: 'Notre dame'

    Not to be too cynical about it, but might the recent horrific fire in Paris’ cathedral attract audiences to a film in which the gothic gem plays a major role? It’s likely a wiser marketing strategy than promoting the unrelenting silliness of Valerie Donzelli’s oh-so-kooky comedy “Notre dame,” the writer-director-star’s return to contemporary Paris following [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content